James Newberry, who is indisputably the biggest collector of Jim Reeves memorabilia in the world, has announced that the Mike Curb Family Foundation of Nashville, Tenn. has acquired his collection. While select pieces from Newberry's holdings are currently on loan to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, the vast majority of Reeves items comprising his collection have never been available to the fans. Instead, they have been sealed in cartons and locked away in professional storage for years. Now, with the assignment of these artifacts to the Curb Family Foundation, there is the prospect that Jim's fans around the world may someday be able to enjoy them.
At least 128 cartons were loaded on a semi and transported to Tennessee, where they will become part of the vast country music assets owned by Curb. He is a well-known preservationist who has spent a fortune buying various historic buildings and collections, including RCA Studio B, Owen Bradley's Quonset Hut, Columbia Studio A, Elvis Presley's former home in Memphis, and also the memorabilia of Johnny Cash.
The announcement comes as the culmination of many years of effort by James Newberry to find a permanent home for his collection. He has been pursuing Reeves items for more than 40 years, and says that his collection was once appraised at more than $1 million. Until he got married a few years ago, James was a bachelor who spent every spare nickel -- and every spare minute -- traveling the world in search of Reeves rarities. He continuously ran ads in trade publications like Goldmine magazine soliciting Jim's items, and also befriended a long list of people who knew Jim. Newberry would even volunteer to clean up radio station storage rooms with the proviso that if he ran across anything pertaining to Jim Reeves, he'd be allowed to keep it. His resourcefulness in tracking down the rarest of rare items is truly astonishing.
But James Newberry, who in recent years has been dubbed the "Howard Hughes of the Reeves set," for his low profile and inaccessibility, has been ACquisitive rather than INquisitive about Reeves. A self-described preservationist, he admits that he had not even listened to the dozens of rare acetates and other recordings of Jim's that he had filed away. He had so much in his collection he frequently had trouble remembering all of it. His goal all along, he says, has been to preserve as much of Jim's legacy as possible for future generations.
Newberry already had a sizable collection when Mary Reeves fell ill and her estate was acquired by carnival operator/convicted bank fraud felon Ed Gregory. James was a close friend of Mary's and, like a lot of us, knew that she literally spent her entire adult life working to preserve and perpetuate Jim Reeves' memory. Like Jim, she was a confirmed packrat, who saved thousands of items relevant to his life and career. She paid lawyers a lot of money to make sure that after she was gone, her late husband's music and memorabilia would continue to be enjoyed by future generations of music lovers. For awhile it seemed her hopes had been dashed.
Despite the intial statements that Gregory made to the press about supposedly wanting to protect Jim's legacy, he moved quickly to sell off anything and everything that wasn't tied down. He did so with reckless abandon, and no thought given to the damage he was doing to Jim's legacy.
Fortunately, James Newberry was in a financial position to do something about it. He befriended Gregory, and for awhile served as an unpaid "consultant." But his unique access did not earn him any discounts; he spent well into the six figures buying such things as more than 40 of Jim Reeves' gold, silver and platinum record awards. Newberry also bought the KGRI radio equipment that Jim used at the start of his career as an announcer. He acquired Jim's Cadillac and spent over $135,000 having it painstakingly restored. He bought the wallet that was in Jim's pocket the day he was killed. He purchased stage costumes and other personal items, much of it from the now-defunct Jim Reeves Museum.
When Ed Gregory's world was collapsing, and he faced various legal actions for alleged fraud, he raced to dump more Reeves antiquities at flea markets and on junk dealers. One of them, Connie Sanders, took a page from Gregory's playbook, and for the last several years has proceeded to sell off items to the highest bidder.
When I saw Mrs. Sanders auctioning Jimmie Rodger's radiator cap, I prevailed upon James Newberry to buy it. I am happy to say he agreed to do so. This single item was the most important piece that Jim himself cherished. He always credited Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, as being his inspiration, having heard his recordings on an old victrola when he was a boy. Jim befriended the singer's widow, Carrie, who gave Reeves the radiator cap from Jimmie's car. Jim proudly displayed it in his den, and showed it to visitors. I could not conceive of this rarity being lost to one of the fanatical collectors who have hoarded Reeves items merely for the sake of bragging rights.
The same was true of the funeral home registry book, which Mrs. Sanders audaciously claimed she had to sell for financial reasons, notwithstanding the tens of thousands of dollars she was reaping from her Reeves sales. In this instance I also approached Newberry with the suggestion that he buy it, which he did, for over $1800.00.
I know that over the years, James has been sharply criticized by some for the fact that he was accumulating so much historic material on Jim Reeves and not sharing it with anybody. A lot of people doubted his sincerity when he professed to want to find a permanent home for his collection, and for awhile I was among them.
However, in this regard, I believe James is entitled to the last laugh. He has proven that his four decades of obsessive collecting have not been for naught. Rather than selling these items to someone who would merely lock them up, he has made sure that the new owner will not only protect them, but also make them available to the fans. I am sure that Mike Curb did not acquire this Reeves collection for his own aggrandizement. We can all be grateful to both men for stepping in to rescue the most important historic treasures from Jim Reeves' life and career.
Yes, the Reeves museum was torn down. Yes, Gregory and a few other vultures tried to pick the bones clean. But in the end, Jim's legacy has survived. In fact, it is being rebuilt, thanks in part to Mr. Newberry and Mr. Curb. We fans owe them both a round of applause.
James has written a letter to the fans, which you can read below. Julie and I appreciate the fact that both he and Mike Curb chose The Jim Reeves Way to announce this sale, even before any of the other media or interested parties were made privy to this exciting development.
"To all the worldwide Jim Reeves fans, I am very pleased to report that my 40 plus year effort in accumulating and preserving priceless memorabilia on Gentleman Jim Reeves has come to an end. I have finally found an appropriate home which will ensure the James Newberry Collection will endure in perpetuity.
I have had many opportunities over the years to sell off parts of this Collection. Recently, I turned down numerous offers, which would have been financially to my advantage. Those of you who know me well know that this has never been my goal or something that I would consider.
The ownership of the James Newberry Jim Reeves Collection, with the exception of two items, has been assigned to the Mike Curb Family Foundation. I have chosen to keep Jim Reeves' wallet that he had on his person at the time of his untimely death. They were not interested in the Jim Reeves Cadillac because they felt it is too difficult to display.
Mr. Curb is well known as the former Lieutenant Governor of the State of California. His record label, and his philanthropic organizations, including the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, are world renowned. His Family Foundation holdings include but are not limited to RCA Studio B and most recently the acquisition of the famous Bradley Studios (the "Quonset Hut") in Nashville, all of which had significant influence on not only the Jim Reeves career path, but indeed the legends of Nashville and the music industry.
It is my understanding that in the interim period, a great deal of the memorabilia I have on loan to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas, will stay in place. There is limited display space at RCA Studio B. From time to time, certain Jim Reeves items may be put on display. Mr. Curb also stepped in and preserved the bulk of the Johnny Cash memorabilia. I have been told that some of the Jim Reeves Collection, along with Johnny Cash will be displayed at the Bradley Studios when this project is completed. The completion of the renovation of the Bradley Studios will require about two years. My Collection is extremely large and they have additional plans for the preservation and display of same. I am prepared to work closely with the Foundation in identifying and assisting the cataloging of all the James Newberry Collection.
As I continue to work with the Mike Curb Family Foundation, I will receive updates as to the time line for additional display of Jim Reeves memorabilia. As this information becomes available, I am sure that announcements will be made and the worldwide fans of Jim Reeves are kept informed.
I could write a great deal about Mike Curb, his accomplishments and work at preserving the history of country music. I feel that you would be better served by visiting his website (CLICK HERE). The web site is very extensive. Select all the buttons on his home page and the story will be told.
I am almost done but not completely. It is my desire to have Jim Reeves' Cadillac returned to Nashville. I am currently working to achieve this goal."